Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mini-sermonette #4: Integrity

Integrity can't be bought, but it can be sold.
But once it's sold, it's worthless.
Reputation can be managed and restored.
But integrity doesn't necessarily come along with it.
Integrity can be regained, but at a considerable cost.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Go Reds

I went with my family to a Reds game yesterday. It was my first Reds game in a long time, and my first one in the new stadium. After a period of time, it occurred to me that there was actually a baseball game going on on the field. And some people were watching it.

Between the vendors in the aisles, the music that filled every empty second, the scoreboard, the fan games, the waves, the musical interludes specific to each player, the organ, the food runs, the T-shirt cannons, flame shooting smokestacks and fireworks, it seemed to me that the game itself was the distraction more than the main event. It also seemed that the experience was predicated on the fact that every moment has to be entertainment if not some level of spectacle.

I will say that with the beach ball spree and the Beach Boys, I did get my money's worth.

Friday, May 24, 2013


Who decided how the cherry tree should branch and flower?
Who designed the patterns on the peacock's feathers?
Who gave the iguana its fierce demeanor?
Who said yes, I like the baboon's buttocks just the way they are?

Who imagined a being with a throbbing, insistent penis?
Who put the idea of justice in the world knowing it would
become laughable time and again?
Who made human beings who achieved their highest capacities
but made only a few of them?

Who created a heaven, but made us guess at what it is?
Who created miracles that are almost believable?
Who talked to us in whispers amidst the incessant noise of life
and mumbled to us in metaphors?

Think like a ...

We've had a water problem with our living room ceiling for all 17 years we've owned the house. We've painted and then sealed and repainted, put in new roof vents and fan, had the chimney reflashed and sealed, got a new roof. Nothing worked to solve the problem.

Then a chimney man diagnosed the problem. He explained, "You just have to think like a raindrop."

Maybe that's the way to solve the problems we encounter. We just have to think like the proper thing.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mini-sermonette #4: Justice

Justice as a mere concept is impotent.
Justice which can be bought is self destructive.
Justice is never guaranteed.
Justice should be the work of everyone.
Justice is the commitment of a rare few.
Justice should be how we measure ourselves.
Justice is how God measures us.

Mini-sermonette #3: Heroes and Heroines

Imagine you are sitting in your cozy living room. The fire in the fireplace is warm and comforting. You look up at the mantel above the fireplace, and on it are statuettes of your heroes/heroines.

Who all is there? How did they get there? Are they enjoying each other's company? Will they endure?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mini-sermonette #2: Demons

We all have demons. It's a part of being human. They may come from our genes, our misfiring synapses, our nightmares, our dysfunctional human relationships. Who knows? There's nothing we can do about having them, and they won't ever go away. They live in science fiction, the movies,
the dark caves of teenagers, the anxieties and unspoken shame of adults.

So how do we go about living with them? First, they don't like the light of day.  Drag them out, slap them around if you have to. Show them to other (appropriate) people. Talk to them like they mean something to you, because they do. And recognize that you are stronger for having done this.

With effort you will tame them, but never vanquish them. And you don't want to, because they remind you of your humanity, strength and humility.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

This song's for you

I was at my fitness center today trying to get a little fitness and was listening to the incessant music videos. It came to me complete in a flash. The song lyrics I needed to write. I offer these to you copyright free.

Here goes.

You are into you, you, you.
I am into me, me, me.
Baby, Baby, Baby
think what could happen if
We were into we, we, we, we,
we, we, we, we, we, we,

You look into the mirror and see you, you, you.
I look into the mirror and see me, me, me
Baby, Baby, Baby
Let's share a mirror
So we can see we, we, we, we
we, we, we, we, we, we,

We don't want to live life
Like little narcisissies.
Don't want to live life like
Little misters and little missies.

So you get into me, me, me
I'll get into you, you, you
And together we'll show the world
What we can do, do, do
do, do, do, do, do, do

Make my day

Sometimes there's just one little thing that can transform an ordinary day.

My 3-year-old grandson and his sister were taking a bath at our house. Suddenly he jumps up, one foot on the edge of the tub, and says, "This is the party bath."

For me, this makes life sweet.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Life spiral

In numerous cultures, the spiral is a life symbol of one kind or another. From time to time I would wonder about this. I never came to a solution that I thought was anywhere near authoritative.
But I did happen on an idea I liked.

Take out a sheet of paper and a pencil. Pick a point and draw a straight line in any direction. Stop at some point. This never seemed a sensible diagram of the path of a human life.

Now, draw a spiral starting from its outside limit and moving toward its resolution point. There's not the same certainty of conclusion along the spiral as along the straight line. Even more, as you  move along the spiral, you are, in fact, always moving away from your final destination just as you are moving toward it.

To me, this is a much more satisfying image of a life.

High school Surrealism

Many years ago, when I began to teach at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, I noticed that the portfolios of high school seniors (almost always males) heading to the Academy were filled with drawings of skulls, knives dripping blood, burning candles, all in curious spatial settings. I called this "high school Surrealism," and felt it was my task in drawing to move them along to wider skills and more sophisticated subject matter. It seemed to me that most male teenagers moved into their adolescent male cave and that this approach to their art emerged there.

Decades later, I began to realize that high school Surrealism had morphed into a gender-neutral, comic book, superhero, anime, zine culture that was not transient and that often maintained itself through their college experience and into their professional lives.

It seemed necessary that my task had to change, that I needed to help them avoid being trapped by style and to consider the content of their work. I no longer really lived in their world, but still wondered about it. Why did the apparent adolescence of their images sustain itself?  Where did the fascination with monsters come from? Why did this imaginary and cartoonish world have such appeal over reality? It was clear why superheroes were super; but did they understand what it meant to be heroes?

I don't have any answers to these questions other than my own, and I'm not even sure if it's fair of me to ask the questions.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


When I walk around Over-the-Rhine going about my business, I'm surprised how many African-Americans address me as "sir."  It's not just because I'm a senior citizen; this has been the case for many years. And it's young, old, male and female African-Americans.

But I have never overheard a white person address an African-American in the same civil way. Does this happen? If not, why not? If so, let me know about it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


I'm God, and I'm doing a little reminiscing. I knew, when I got this whole ball rolling, that there would one day be a nervous system that began to ask questions. I happened to become fond of this small group of desert nomads. They were always smiting and smoting, which I even got into a little myself.

They began to ask where everything came from, and I thought they deserved an answer. But what answer? I figured that if I told them about monkeys and humans, about the sex lives of praying mantises, about the bacteria in their bellies, about what would come to be named quarks, about how much I love beetles and about their own vulnerability, it would be a disaster.

So I decided on the seven days of creation, thinking it would be a nice metaphor for evolution when they got there. So, pleased with myself, I took a little nap. Well, the next day--one of mine, not yours--I woke up to find two former astronauts looking for Noah's ark. I got a chuckle out of that. But then I heard that Answers in Genesis was building a Noah's ark replica with a gift shop in the bottom. We all got a laugh out of that. We still do.

You see, I didn't create man and woman just to see how they would handle free will and good and evil. Sometimes I need to laugh too.

We, the specks

We are tiny specks of matter on the cosmic scale with nanoseconds of time to spend in the cosmic reach. And for most of us, most of the time, this hasn't sunk in. We go about our business of dancing between good and evil, loving with desperation, hating easily, fucking our brains out, abandoning our children, dying for them, killing indiscriminately, revealing the complexity and beauty of nature then destroying it, gossiping, telling ourselves our stories with honesty and grace, dreaming ourselves out of our grim realities, imagining ourselves into more comfortable worlds, walking the tightrope between power and justice.

Specks, maybe. But we are humans, and all we have is one another.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Love, sex and Venn diagrams

You remember. A Venn diagram is one of those visuals of intersecting circles that depict relationships between things you want to compare.

So let's get started.

Draw two intersecting circles. Label one LOVE and the other SEX.

Now watch maybe five or so of your favorite TV shows or movies in which acts of intimacy occur. For each act of intimacy, draw an appropriate Venn diagram of LOVE and SEX. Compare the diagrams.

Next, if you grew up practicing a religion, draw a Venn of the relationship in your religious teaching of LOVE and SEX.

Now draw a Venn diagram of the relationship of LOVE and SEX based on your own moral compass.

Okay, you're all done. Or maybe you're not.

Soap Opera

That final push and out we come, birthed into one grand soap opera. The script was in process long before we arrived to become (at least temporarily) a major player, and it will be a while before we have much of a hand in writing it. But there swirling around us is the drama of love, jealousy, deceit, relationships built, relationships destroyed, passion and lust.

We play out our parts, waiting for the moment when we can take over the script and spin off a soap opera of our own. We go back through the episodes, rewind the tapes, play them over and over hoping something might change. We probably won't look as physically beautiful and dress as nicely or look as good in bed or have the chance to be resurrected.

Still, it will be our own soap opera, built on the healthy script of childhood and adolescence or dragging the ball and chain of dysfunction, struggling to be freed.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

When it comes to art, do the math.

Try solving these simple math problems:

1. (The number of people who went to your opening)  -  (the number of people who carefully looked at your work) =   ?

2. (The total attendance at an exhibition)  -  (the total attendance at the opening)  =  ?

3. (The total number of hours you spent making and exhibiting the work)  -  (the number of hours the average person spent looking at the work)  =  ?

4. (The total cost of making and exhibiting the work)  -  (the income you derived from the exhibition)
=  ?

5. (The total income from the exhibition)  *  (the total hours spent making the work)  =  ?  (hourly income)        Note:  * represents divided by

5 things to consider in purchsing a work of art

1. Could your child do it? (If so, take his/her artwork off the refrigerator, frame it and put it on the wall.)

2. Does the artwork go with a wide range couch styles?

3. How difficult is the artwork to dust?

4. What will your friends say behind your back about your sense of  taste after they have seen the artwork?

5. In time, if the artwork is stolen, will you be glad to get the insurance money?


My ongoing research into the use of "fuck" in its many forms in current expression has led me to coin the term "fuckology" for this process. Fuckology leads me to questions like:

If we can watch people fucking on TV, why can't we hear them say the work fuck on TV?

If marriage is only between a man and a woman, does that mean that fucking is only between a man and a woman?

If fuck is used in humor, anger, frustration, for shock value, in ignorance, out of limited vocabulary or whatever, shouldn't there be a more extensive and expressive fuckabulary?

In response to this last question, I offer this list for your consideration:

Enjoy. Have fun. Let me know how they work.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Inside Out

I  am currently volunteering at Visionaries & Voices, a non-profit, Cincinnati organization whose mission is to give artists who are disabled the support to develop as professional working artists. I mentor a young man who loves music and art.

This experience has triggered in me many questions about the evolution of the artist. When a young artist commits to an art school education, the assumption is that the student understands that the school has a mission, the mission drives a curriculum, the curriculum is certified so the BFA degree means something in the larger world, and the student has bought herself a measure of credibility.

When in that process does the school know best what is needed for an artist to succeed in the larger world? How does the curriculum know how to allow the student to become an independent thinker within it? How does the student artist come to know what is necessary to learn?

The obligation of the school is to bring the student to the realization that the world is as open to him as he wants it to be and to prepare her to act on that.

But what happens to the outsider artist? Should they follow a curriculum that opens the world to them based on some perspective they have to investment in? Do they take the lead, ask for what they need and we follow? To be the artists they are, must they stay trapped inside the outsider?

This experience has been a revelation to me. I hope that I can gradually begin to answer some of these questions.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Angels. We sense them. We encounter them. We invent them. We imagine them. But what do we require of them?

They must mediate earth and heaven. They must direct us toward the good, because they know the good or because they understand evil. They must represent to us the texture of heaven and the temporality of earth, the incorruptible and the corruptible simultaneously.

They must assure us that we can one day fly, defying the gravity of our own human failures.

Monday, May 6, 2013

My advice to art school graduates

If I were giving an art school commencement talk, this is some of the advice I would pass along.

The box to think outside of is not around you but inside you.

Humility is not necessary to be a great artist, but it feels a lot better in the long run.

Creativity does not start with the pencil, pen brush or mouse. It starts when experience in the world is imagined and interpreted.

The limits you find on yourself as an artist are the limits you find on yourself as a human being.

Art comes alive only when it connects with the viewer.

You must be your own greatest supporter, best friend and sternest critic.

The reason and the passion for making the art are more important than the art.

Think of art as a gift first--a gift to be able to make it and a gift to be able to give it. Once it becomes a commodity, it gets distracted.

Find something to stand in awe of.


The sports section of the newspaper is generally at least as large as the front section and the local section and any other specialty section. The sports section appears daily, the arts section, weekly. Television news is no different really. The regular reports of burglaries, fires, shootings, corruption are followed by maps and charts of weather along with weather quizzes and bar-b-ques which are followed by sports of all sorts. How can there be time for these aspects of the news, hour after hour, with additional chit-chat and still no serious time for the arts?

A dedicated sports columnist can range across sports, wax poetic, put sports in a larger cultural and ethical context on a daily basis. High school athletes are extolled and high school athletes and coaches of the year for all sports are duly noted with text and pictures.

This is all well and good, but is, in my estimation, way out of proportion to the attention given to serious artists,  performers and scholars. Imagine a world without professional sports. We could live with that. We might even get out and play more ourselves. But a world without the arts would be intolerably drab and sterile, a world we could not so easily remedy on our own.

We regularly read articles about the positive effects of the arts on learning and morale, but arts budgets are cut long before sports budgets. Excellent arts teachers are rarely acknowledged. Careers in sports are both desired and envied. Careers in the arts are suspect. Physical prowess is widely admired, intellectual and creative prowess must earn its share of attention.

Honest balance should be the goal.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


When I was a parent, I was busy raising my son, attending to my career, maintaining all kinds of relationships, having fun, keeping the house in shape. So I grew up with my son and did the best I could to make sense of what was happening in his life.

But as a grandparent, I have the leisure to watch and listen and respond with more experience, more patience and more insight. Children under the age of six are being indelibly formed for life. And they are clueless about what events big and small (sometimes the big ones are small and the small ones big) that will imprint them. They are who they are before they know who they are, and they will spend the rest of their lives building on that or struggling against that.

So I have been asking myself some questions about childhood.  Here are some examples.

What is learned in a sandbox?
What is the true nature and meaning of play?
What is communicated and imprinted by the nonverbal, tactile encounters a child experiences?
How does language--tone, vocabulary, baby talk, reading, volume level, grammar--impact the child?
How is the child affected by their relationship to trees? To nature?
What is the relationship of looking up at adults all those years to eventually looking them in the eye?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Some commonly asked questions about art: asked and answered

Q:             Do all artists have to be bad-ass to be successful?
A:             No, but the art does. Artists are human beings like all of us and differ from one another like all of us. Some are decent, some are assholes, some are pretentious, some are humble. You get the idea.

Q:            If I don’t think it’s art, is it still art?
A:            Of course it is. The art won’t change. It’s you who will change.

Q:            If I think it’s art, is it really art?
A:            Time will tell.

Q:            If it’s expensive, does that mean it’s good?
A:            As soon as a dollar value is put on art, it becomes a commodity. As a commodity, it’s value is then a function of the market. There is plenty of second rate art by first tier artists and plenty of first rate art by emerging or less well known artists.

Q:             How do I know if a piece of art is good or not?
A:            Educate your gut. Then trust it. It’s good if it keeps feeding you.

Q:            What’s the relationship between art and sofas?
A:            If you think there is one, then you’re not looking for art.

Q:            Should I try to meet the artists?
A:            Yes. They may seem aloof, but they don’t bite. They love to talk about themselves and their work. All interesting art has an interesting back story.

Q:            Can I grow tired of a work of art?
A:            Yes, but it’s usually not your fault. It’s more likely the fault of the work of art.

Q:            How do I avoid this?
A:            If the art tells you all about itself in the first meeting, avoid it. Expect it to keep bringing you into conversation with it. Expect it to grow with you.

Q:            Can I trust the critics?
A:            Most critics have some credentials. But they also have biases and limitations like all of us. Do the critics teach you anything? Do they tell you how to think about art or what to think about art?


Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Prom

In many traditional cultures there are rituals and ceremonies which lead adolescents into the roles they must take as adults in the society. These events and activities are educational and social and are diected by the society's elders. They include communal gatherings, costumes, rites and dances. At the end of the experience, the adolescents are understood to be adults and are treated as adults with freedoms, expectations and responsibilities. In some cultures adolescents even emerge with a life vision.

In contemporary American culture we really don't have such things. Sometimes the adolescents are more adult than the adults. There is no clear rite or passage which identifies the adolescent as havning become an adult. Is it getting shit-faced drunk? Is it getting a driver's license? Getting a job? Moving out of the house? Sexual encounters? Risky behavior of some kind? In most of these cases, the role of the elder has become marginal. In fact, the adolescents often lead the elders: long hair, tatoos, piercings, unsocial behaviors, etc.

In this context then, consider the prom. Male and female costumes are given great attention for the attention they garner. The limousine and the dimly lit restaurant are the training caves from which the pre-adults emerge. The dancing is raucous and sexually provocative. The hotel room awaits where the entrance into adult sexuality is consummated. The parents defer to the schools as elders, who then must set standards of dress and behavior. The whole experience happens at great expense.

At least that is how the story seems currently to be told. And that story is hard dismiss when we have a culture which is much more interested in producing consumers than in producing citizens and much more interested in  producing workers that in producing human beings.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Disco Ball

Take the Boston marathon bombings. Or the war in Afghanistan. Or gun control. Or the war on grugs. Or any other important contemporary issue like those. If you follow them in the news media--newspaper, TV, online or commentaries from journalists, columnists, TV gurus, military, law enforcement or politicians--you will notice that each finds their own aspect or entry point into the issue to weigh in  on.

To me it's like a disco ball casting thousands facets of light. Each player in the discussion is chasing one of those facets, trying to make sense of its place in the big picture, trying to see a patten, find a solution. But nobody looks up. Nobody sees the true source of all these facets.

As a result, they chase them round and round hoping for a resolution, while they are really just running in circles. Or they just ignore them, dancing to a monotonous and numbing beat.